Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 review: the first mainstream foldable phone6
The Galaxy Z Flip 3 that I’ve been using in the past few days is all about retro vibes, from the cream color version that reminds me of the color of plastics used in electronics in the 90s to the whole foldable action. If you want a cool phone that also happens to be vastly different from the me-too onslaught of smartphones out there, the Z Flip 3 is definitely among the first things that come to mind.
And Samsung has now dropped the price to a way more reasonable $999, still premium flagship territory, but not crazy expensive as the original Flip that cost nearly $1,400. The price gets you all the modern flagship internals, and this being an Android phone, means Qualcomm’s most powerful Snapdragon 888 chip coupled with 8GB of RAM. It also gets a few important fixes, the most important one being a 4X larger and now actually useful Cover Screen up front, finally, a 120Hz main display, better loudspeakers and waterproofing!
While Samsung hasn’t compromised on camera quality, you don’t get a zoom lens like on the S21 Ultra. And the biggest compromise might just be the minuscule by Android standards 3,300mAh battery inside this phone. Even the compact (and cheaper) Galaxy S21 ships with a 4,000mAh cell, and that barely lasts a day.
So… with excitement and a few concerns, let’s dive bravely in this adventure called the Galaxy Z Flip 3 and see if Samsung can convince the world that the future of the smartphone is... well, a foldable smartphone!
- Galaxy Z Fold 3 hands-on
- Galaxy Buds 2 hands-on
- Galaxy Watch 4 hands-on
- Galaxy Watch 4 Classic hands-on
Galaxy Z Flip 3 Design
Flip without worries that it will flop
However, if what matters to you is just how comfortable it is when folded in a pocket, it’s indeed far less intrusive than a non-foldable phone. I am constantly reminded that phones nowadays are just a bit too big every time I try to tie my shoes and whatever phone I have in my pocket gets in the way. That is not the case with the Z Flip 3, and I love that convenience.
The other important question is build quality. The moment I got the Z Flip 3, I tried a little experiment and flipped it open with one hand about a hundred times. You get used to that motion and it's possible to do it with one hand, but it requires a pretty violent shake to flip it open and it's nothing like the ease of opening a clamshell phone in the past. But it did feel very sturdy and I did not hear and squeaking noises, and in the few days of use, I can only confirm that this phone is built like a tank. That's partly thanks to the Gorilla Glass Victus and improved aluminum frame that are protecting the exterior. Dubbed Armor Aluminum, it’s apparently Samsung’s toughest aluminum frame used so far.
The new thing Samsung has added is water protection with an IPX8 rating, meaning that the phone can survive submersion in fresh water for as long as 30 minutes. Notice that X in the IPX8 rating: that X means the phone does NOT have any considerable dust protection. I happened to do some construction work the day I got the phone, and I was careful NOT to use it when there was more dust around. I would not worry about that too much, but if you are in such environments every day, you’d be better off with a regular phone.
Galaxy Z Flip 3 Display
The other thing to mention here is THE CREASE. Not much has changed about it: it’s still very much there. Unlike the crease on the sibling Fold 3 model, this one is not as visually intrusive, but since it's right in the middle in the way of your scrolling, you get to touch it very often and it is noticeable. I also tried pushing with my finger a bit harder around that more vulnerable area in the center, and it felt pretty sturdy, but at the end of the day, it's still one annoyance that just comes with a modern foldable phone.
As for screen quality, this is your typical high-quality Samsung AMOLED panel: 1080p Full HD resolution, beautiful colors, excellent viewing angles and gorgeous deep blacks. Oh, did we mention it supports 120Hz refresh rate now? It is a day-and-night difference with the choppy 60Hz of the original Fold, and if you care about smooth interfaces, you will appreciate this upgrade a lot.
Galaxy Z Flip 3 Cover Screen
Here is what you can do with the Cover Screen:
- tap it once to see the time, date and battery level
- tap it twice or press the power button to turn it on fully. I’ve set it to show a different cute animal every time, and I insist this is the best way to use it (admittedly, you can set it to show the hour in another time zone, show an analog clock, or a different type of animated character)
- swipe down from the top to adjust its brightness and quickly change your phone between sound, vibrate and mute modes
- swipe to the left from the main panel to get to a few panels of widgets: your music controls, the weather, your calendar, alarms, a voice recorder and a few more
- swipe to the right from the main panel brings you in notification land where you can tap on a particular message to expand it and read the whole thing right on the tiny cover screen
I do, however, wish Samsung did a bit more for continuity here. For example, it makes sense once you’ve tapped on a notification on the Cover Screen, that unfolding your phone from that point means you have the intention of reading or replying to that notification. However, the phone doesn’t automatically open the app where the notification came from, but instead opens your home screen. This is a big waste of time and just doesn’t make sense, and I sincerely hope Samsung gives users this option.
Galaxy Z Flip 3 Performance
It's smooth and snappy, but it gets hot easily with even basic tasks
Galaxy Z Flip 3 Camera
Some changes in processing make a big difference for actual image quality
Call and Audio Quality
Galaxy Z Flip 3 Battery
Slightly better than mediocre, it will last you a full day in most cases, but not more
In my use, I was getting anxious that my battery would run out by evening time. Using the phone from the morning, I would notice the battery would usually drop to around 30% around 5pm with mostly texting and just the occasional video and a few glances at social media. More intense use would likely drain the battery before the end of the day, but with scarce use you could through longer days. What this phone is not is a 2-day champ, you definitely have to top it up every night.
The phone comes without a charger in the box (you only have a cable in the box), so most people would have to plan to spend a bit extra to get a fast charger. The Flip 3 has slightly slower speeds than most top-end Samsung phones: it only goes to 15W fast charging (vs 25W on S21), 10W fast wireless charging (vs 15W on S21), and 4.5W reverse wireless charging.
In practical terms, this means that a full charge via a wire takes around 1 hour and 40 minutes, and a full wireless charge takes around 2 hours and a half.
If you are looking for recommendations on chargers, Samsung’s official 25W charger is our top pick. It’s a bit more powerful than the maximum supported speed on the Flip but you will be future proof for any other Samsung devices that might appear in your household.
You also have support for wireless charging at speeds of up to 15W. Any Qi compatible charger will do, and if you’re looking for a recommendation, we’ve been quite happy using Samsung’s own 15W Wireless Charging stand.
It's a one-of-a-kind device and it's cool, but there are a few problems lurking
I am not a person who is yet a convert to the modern flip phone idea, but I'm extremely curious to experiment with it. From my perspective, the Z Flip 3 is a welcome improvement, but also an incremental step up over the original. I used the original Z Flip for a few hours for comparison sake and found the 60Hz screen situation and the visual stutter with it particularly annoying, and that tiny Cover Screen was just apparently a mistake on the earlier model. The Z Flip 3 fixes those flaws, but doesn’t bring anything new and groundbreaking to the table. And while the design is now water-proof and, I feel, sturdier, it’s still a bit of a chore unfolding this phone with one hand, an action that you’d need to repeat tens if not hundreds times a day. And it doesn’t address any concerns you may have about the mediocre battery life and the lack of a zoom camera.
Ultimately, I will stick with the Flip for a little while and see how it goes. It’s admittedly a fun phone, it’s different and I like that. I still have my reservations about foldable phones that this phone hasn’t quite resolved, but it’s the one I feel I can actually pull off compared to the rather large and unwieldy Z Fold 3, essentially a folding tablet. But that's just a personal take, and do make sure to see how Samsung has brought big improvements to the Z Fold 3 and its software in our full review.